Castle Rock Community Church: At the ‘messy’ intersection of loving God and loving people

Castle Rock Community Church is located in the Central City neighborhood of New Orleans.

Specifically, Pastor John Gerhardt said, the church is located at the intersection of
“loving God and loving people.”

“If I live at that intersection – loving God with all I got and loving people ‘til I drop – then I need to make disciples,” Gerhardt said.

“That’s what I’m made for, and when we live at that intersection, then that intersection is peace, it’s joy, it’s salvation, it’s mercy, it’s justice, it’s compassion. It’s all those things, but it’s also messy because it’s people, and we want to live at that intersection together.”

Castle Rock, affiliated with the Evangelical Free Church of America, grew out of a ministry called Urban Impact in 1998, the pastor explained. Urban Impact is dedicated to creating neighborhoods where kids safely can ride their bikes in New Orleans, according to its website.

And now some of those kids now have grown up to be leaders of the church. Gerhardt remembers meeting the church’s youth pastor, Tyrone Christoph, when he was just a “chubby-cheeked fifth-grader,” he said. And that’s powerful, he said – it takes more to stay in a neighborhood than it does to move there.

Multi-ethnic, multi-income

Castle Rock is intentionally multi-ethnic, multi-income and family friendly, according to its website. Its congregation averages 80 to 100 people on a given Sunday, Gerhardt said; of those, about two-thirds are black and one-third, white. There are some PhD.s, some GEDs and a “lot of people trying to follow G-O-D,” he said.

That’s not a politically correct issue, according to the pastor. It’s a “blood issue,” he said. He pointed to Ephesians 2, which says that those who were far away were “brought near by the blood of Christ,” that Jesus became our peace and made us all one, that He destroyed the barriers between us.

It’s what the church was called to do, he said.

“God wanted and desired us to be a body that is one together,” he said, and God created each of us in His image: black and white, rich and poor, young and old. None of us is more important to the body than another, and each has something he or she can teach; each has something he or she can learn.

And so Castle Rock continues a lot of the children’s programming that started with Urban Impact, he said: Thursday Night Live for high-schoolers and SLAM for middle-schoolers, open court nights and educational enrichment opportunities.

Getting ‘messy’

That work can be messy, Gerhardt insisted, because people are messy. Relationships are hard and messy. Read the New Testament: The early church was messy, too, he said, and, “I don’t think it’s ever going to be this clean, perfect place.”

“We start fussing with each other about stupid stuff,” he said.

But, the pastor said, the congregation at Castle Rock knows God has called them to work through the mess and the stupid stuff. He’s called them to unity, and that’s what keeps them going when the going gets tough.

“If you fall back on compassion or caring, you wear out because that stuff leaves. But a calling comes from God, and when it comes from God, He gives you the energy. He gives you the drive. He gives you the perseverance,” he said.

“We’re all called to live at that intersection of God and city and make disciples.”

How does your church engage the “mess” of real relationships with real people?

Emily McFarlan Miller

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